50-year overdue rare book returned to Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Returned at a college reunion event, the library’s fine for the book’s late return would have been more than than £3,000
After being more than 50 years overdue, an atlas that “lost its way” has been returned to Trinity Hall’s Jerwood Library.
Borrowed by an undergraduate in the early 1970s, the book is a rare 19th-century atlas published by the “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge” (SDUK) . Returned at a college reunion event, the library’s fine for the book’s late return would have been more than than £3,000.
Trinity Hall’s atlas was published around 1856 by George Cox of the SDUK. It contains around 160 engraved maps produced by J&C Walker. The maps are reflective of the colonisation of areas by the British Empire, including British North American territories such as Canada, Ohio, Indiana and Maine. Maps of Africa, which have large empty spaces, have been highlighted as useful demonstrations of the limitations of European exploration at the time of publication.
Jenni Lecky-Thompson, Head of Library Services for Trinity Hall, commented that “until the Society published their maps, atlases were expensive – luxury items intended for the gentleman’s library.”
She continued that “[the library] is really grateful to the person who returned this book to us. It’s definitely a case of better late than never.”
The SDUK was founded in 1826 by Whig politician Lord Henry Brougham (1778-1868). For around 20 years, the Society published various works on “useful” subjects intended for a working class audience. Their most successful publication were their inexpensive but high-quality atlas maps.